#NotAskingForIt

2015-Discussion-ChallengeI recently read Asking For It by Louise O’Neill, and while putting together my review, I realised I had a lot more to say about the content of the book. I was originally intending to do a joint review and discussion post, but it ended up being far too long, so I’ve decided to write my discussion separately.

*Trigger Warning* – Rape and Sexual Assault

This is a discussion that I’ve felt brewing in me for some time, one that I’ve never sat down to write, or fully verbalised in any way, but reading Asking For It has pushed me over the edge, and even if no one reads my words, at least I’ll have gotten them off my chest.

Asking For It deals fantastically and honestly with many controversial issues, including victim-blaming and rape culture. Topics that are often difficult to openly discuss, but these are the conversations that we need to be having.

In a 2013/14 survey by the Office for National Statistics (England and Wales), almost 20% of female respondents had experienced some form of sexual assault. The figures also show more than a quarter of respondents believe drunk victims of rape or sexual assault are at least partly responsible for what happens to them, and shockingly a third of respondents thought sex attack victims had partial responsibility if they had been “flirting heavily” beforehand. Worryingly, these views are held in the majority by young people under the age of 25, which is also the age category reporting the highest numbers of sexual abuse crimes.

The effects of victim-blaming can clearly be seen in the survey, with one third of victims telling no one about the attack, and only one sixth reporting it to the Police. Those who didn’t report the attack provided a variety of reasons, which should be an eye-opener for us all, including: embarrassment (50%), not wanting more humiliation (30%), thinking the Police couldn’t help (26%), thinking they wouldn’t be believed (21%), thinking the crime is too trivial/not worth reporting (14%), fearing more violence as a result of involving the Police (14%), thinking people wouldn’t be sympathetic (12%), and not wanting the person who did it to be punished (8%).

A total of 64,205 sexual offences were reported in 2013/14, and as this represents the small one sixth of incidents that are actually reported, we can begin to see just how vast this problem is. The after-effects are further reaching than you may think. Nearly half of the victims reported suffering physical injuries, but 61% also suffered mental or emotional problems, and 41% reported having problems trusting people or having difficulty in other relationships. The victims reported becoming pregnant in 5% of cases, and contracting a disease in 3%. In 9% of cases, the victim attempted suicide as a result.

The analysis above is of sexual assault perpetrated by a male towards a female, and does not include an in-depth analysis of male on male sex crime, female on female sex crime, or female on male sex crime, mostly because figures are not freely available.

Our current societal culture legitimises sexual assault by blaming the victim for the attack, and makes a variety of excuses for the perpetrator’s actions. This needs to stop. Not only is it ridiculous to put the blame for sex attacks squarely on the victim’s shoulders (regardless of their clothing, behaviour, or level of sobriety), but it’s also a cultural response based entirely on myth. Statistically, the majority of rape and sexual assault cases in the UK occur when the victim is sober, by someone they know.

Rape and sexual assault are routinely trivialised, and the onus is usually on the victim to somehow prevent the attack from happening in the first place – don’t have too many drinks, don’t wear a skirt too short or you’ll attract attention, don’t walk home alone, don’t encourage flirtation, don’t put yourself in “that position” in the first place. This is mixed with the implication that it is “natural” for men to pursue women, to the point of coercion. When growing up female, there is an unwritten rulebook we need to learn to protect ourselves. However, we are also told that we are sexual objects, that our self-worth is directly proportional to how attractive and desirable we are, and that sexual attention is considered complimentary. We are taught to use our “feminine wiles”, while remaining virginal.

When a sexual assault does take place, the victim often feels guilt and shame, and questions their actions to determine what they did “wrong”. The victim remains silent, internalising the trauma. It never fails to amaze me, how many assault stories go untold. If you were able to ask your mother, your girlfriend, your sister, your daughter, about their experiences, about the times they’ve been objectified, belittled, coerced, manhandled, groped, cat-called, propositioned, pressured or shamed, the sheer number of stories would amaze you too.

No matter what happens, she’s #NotAskingForIt.

I could never eloquently put these thoughts into words as well as the fantastic Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who said:

“We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are. If we have sons, we don’t mind knowing about our son’s girlfriends. But our daughter’s boyfriends? God forbid. But of course when the time is right we expect those girls to bring back the “perfect man” to be their husband. We police girls. We praise girls for virginity. but we don’t praise boys for virginity…

Recently, a young woman was gang-raped in a University in Nigeria, and the response of many young Nigerians, both male and female, was something along the lines of this: “Yes, rape is wrong. But what is a girl doing in a room with four boys?” If we can forget the horrible inhumanity of that response, these Nigerians have been raised to think of women as inherently guilty, and have been raised to expect so little of men that the idea of men as savage beings without any control, is somehow acceptable.

We teach girls shame. “Close your legs”, “cover yourself”. We make them feel as though by being born female, they’re already guilty of something. And so, girls grow up to be women who cannot see they have desire. They grow up to be women who silence themselves. They grow up to be women who cannot say what they truly think, and they grow up – and this is the worst thing we do to girls – they grow up to be women who have turned pretence into an art-form.”

Now, this is where feminism comes into the equation for me, because “victim-shaming” and “rape culture” are phrases often associated with “those feminists”. A recent conversation with someone I admire left me shocked and disappointed. I’ve always thought that while this person may not self-identify as a “feminist”, their actions matched the ethos. To discover that they are vehemently opposed to feminism, well that’s a conversation that still lingers with me, and will for some time to come. It did make me realise that feminism is still shrouded with negative connotations and misunderstandings, and I wish people would educate themselves on the subject first before deciding to oppose it so strongly.

To some, it’s still about privileged straight white males in suits, and privileged straight white females, arguing about glass ceilings and pay gaps. While this is true to a certain extent, feminism has evolved, and will continue to evolve to be so much more than that. It’s about sexual assault, it’s about gender-norms, it’s about homophobia, it’s about the constant stream of comments I hear in a male-dominated industry that undermine females sexually and professionally. If you are uncomfortable with the term “feminist”, then be an “equalist”, or a “humanist”, or a god damn “do-the-right-thing-ist”, but don’t sit there and tell me that we don’t need feminism, that “it’s not like that any more”, because as Roxanne Gay says, I’d rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.

Please feel free to share your thoughts, opinions and experiences in the comments.

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25 comments

  1. My views on feminism have changed greatly over the past decade. I was raised believing that men and women are equal but different, otherwise known as complementarianism. I now subscribe to egalitarianism – the belief that ALL people are of equal worth.

    “There are just different types of brains. Sex only matters where sex is directly concerned.”

    – Agatha Christie, Appointment With Death

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    1. Fantastic way to be raised , Selah, and actually not as common as it should be, but it’s interesting that there are so many subsections to the equality beliefs, and I love the sound of egalitarianism, something I’ll have to do more research on. Excellent quote too. R x

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      1. There are a lot of feminists who believe that complementarianism is barely a step above patriarchy, but it didn’t play that way in my childhood. Yes, my dad worked and my mom stayed home and homeschooled us (for that matter, my husband and I have a similar set up), but it was because she chose to, not because he forced her to.
        Egalitarianism can lean towards very liberal social beliefs, and I’ll be honest, I’m pretty conservative. However, I do believe that ALL people have equal intrinsic value.
        In some ways, Dame Agatha was WAY ahead of her time. 🙂

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  2. YES YES YES gaaah this was so infuriating to read, but not because of you, don’t worry. I am a proud feminist, and when I talk to other people who say they’re not, I can’t help but think, “What’s wrong with you?” If you’re not a feminist, you’re someone who believes genders shouldn’t be equal, and you’re not a person I want in my life.

    I haven’t read Asking For It yet, but I did just finish Only Ever Yours. I’m going to hope you’ve read it, because it doesn’t deal with rape per say, but it does deal with female-victimising. I kept hoping and hoping the story would have a romantic “prince” and a happy ending, but despite being set in a dystopian future world, the book ended up being very, very real and applicable to today. It gutted me. If you haven’t read it, take a happy break after Asking For It, then read it.

    I think I’m going to do a similar post to this but on OEY soon, so thanks for the push! 🙂

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    1. Yea, I don’t understand people who oppose feminism, as it’s essentially a positive movement. To disagree with aspects of it, or not identify with the title, fair enough, but to eliminate its need completely… just seems kind of strange.

      I’m going to pick up OEY soon. I’m currently ruining my life with Go Set A Watchman, which is paining me… and then I think I want to read The Great Gatsby, because I never have and it’s quite short, and quotes I’ve seen from it call to me, THEN I might do OEY. But that’ll be 3 depressing books in a row… sigh.

      Looking forward to your post! Asking For It evoked a physical reaction from me. It was both terrible and amazing at the same time. R x

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  3. Brava, Rachel, I love this post! Even in the U.S., the statistics are similar and when you really take the time to pay attention, an injustice has been done to all women where we don’t feel comfortable coming forward, where we’re immediately under suspicion if something happens to us, where the aftereffects of assault are largely ignored. Being female can be really frustrating when something as simple as taking a walk by yourself becomes a huge deal. I cringe every time I hear someone say “Well, why was she walking by herself? Why was she out so late?” whenever a story on the news about a woman being attacked airs. Why is this our immediate reaction? Why can’t a women walk by herself when she wants to? Shouldn’t she have that freedom? Why are you more concerned about this choice than what her offender did? But these thought processes are so ingrained in society, people aren’t consciously aware that what they’re doing is victim-blaming and so it’s important for those of us who do recognize it to challenge their views, to ask them why. Ugh, I’m all worked up now, I need to go hug a dog or something. Really wonderful post!

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